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Swiss Trade Unions Federation to hold nationwide protests as MPs debate pension reforms

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Swiss women take part in a nationwide general strike against working conditions in June 2019.
Swiss women take part in a nationwide general strike against working conditions in June 2019.   -   Copyright  Jean-Christophe Bott/Keystone via AP
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Switzerland's Trade Unions Federation has called for a general strike next week over what it says are persistent inequalities faced by women in the workplace.

The umbrella organisation, which represents about 20 trade unions with a cumulative membership of 370,000, is set to hold nationwide protests next week to draw attention to the issue.

It comes two days before the Swiss parliament is set to debate reforms to the state old-age pension scheme (known as AHV), which proposes to raise the retirement age for women from 64 to 65 – in line with that of men – and increasing VAT.

In a statement on Monday, the Federation said the increase to women's retirement age would be "met with bitter resistance at the ballot box and on the streets".

Members are being called on to down tools and join demonstrations on Wednesday, June 14: the two-year anniversary of one of the largest political demonstration in Switzerland's contemporary history, in which tens of thousands of women took to the streets of Zurich, Bern, Lausanne and Geneva.

Unions highlight bitter Swiss pension gap ahead of planned strike

Women in Sweden earned an average of 19 and 20 per cent less than men in 2018 and 2019 and in recent years unions have repeatedly raised the alarm about workplace discrimination.

The Federation has said that according to its own calculations, in a do-nothing scenario the gap will not be closed for another 80 years.

"The lower wages, part-time work and unpaid work lead to today's scandalously poor pension situation for women - with no end in sight," it said.

The proposed amendments to the pension scheme, known as AHV 21, aim in sum to safeguard its financial future until 2030. Raising the retirement age for women by one year alone would save around 10 billion francs (€9.1 billion) between 2022 and 2031.

Proponents of the reform in the Swiss parliament's centre-right majority also point out that women live longer on average than men, so most benefit more from the AHV in the course of their lives.

But critics point out that because of the pay gap, the average pension for women who retired in 2019 was 1,160 francs (€1,047) per month while for men, it stood at 2,144 francs (€1,936).

Former Green Party MP Katharina Prelicz-Huber, president of the Swiss Union of Public Service Personnel, said: “A childcare specialist earns 4,000-4200 francs a month when starting in a career and, after 10 years of experience, 4,500-4,700 francs per month.

"The only reason for the low wages is that the work is done by women. A credit and risk manager, meanwhile, starts on 8,750 francs a month.

"If the caregiver still has their own children and only works part-time, they can expect a miserable pension in old age [compared to] a princely pension for the manager: an untenable situation."